Despite comments from many attendees saying booth traffic was slow, I think AWEA’s Windpower 2012 was a success. I even have the blisters to prove it.
AWEA hosted the show in Atlanta, a major manufacturing hub, and consisted of two huge halls with well over 1,000 exhibitors. The “slow” traffic can be attributed to the state of the wind industry. Bill Rose, Manger of Media Relations at ABB, Inc. says show attendance is a reflection of the industry. Dan Girard, Director of Renewable Energy and Energy Storage at S&C Electric Company, agrees, saying this year’s show was probably slow because of the uncertainty of the PTC’s renewal. The Wind Production Tax Credit is set to expire at the end of this year. However, Girard says if the PTC passes companies will plan new projects and the show will pick up next year.
Obviously, the PTC was widely discussed at the show (AWEA even hosted a clever “Putt-Putt for the PTC” booth). While renewables have unfortunately become a topic for political division, AWEA CEO Denise Bode says that the PTC enjoys the highest level of bipartisan support of any energy policy.
“It’s something to be proud of,” she said in addressing the Windpower audience, “especially in a Congress that is more divided today than any in memory.”
Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe [D] also noted that wind power is bipartisan, with the PTC garnering the support of the National Governors Association. “My colleagues are on record, Republicans and Democrats alike … so let’s get it done,” he said.
Others noted the Obama administration’s push to pass PTC, making it part of a “To-Do” list for Congress.
Business icon and Atlanta resident Ted Turner even spent some time speaking at the show. His company Turner Enterprises has partnered on renewable energy projects and is an AWEA member. He stresses that now is the time to focus on renewable energy.
Many attendees I spoke with don’t expect the PTC to pass until after the November election. Karl Rove, former senior advisor to President George W. Bush, is of the same opinion.
“My hope is that after the election people say, look, let’s start making some priorities and find some things that we can agree on, and maybe one of them is the production tax credit,” he said. “It is a market mechanism, you don’t get paid unless you produce the power, and we’re not picking winners and losers, we’re simply saying for some period of time we will provide this incentive.”
Besides the PTC, another hot topic at the show (and in the industry) is operations and maintenance. Many wind turbines are coming out of warranty and we’re starting to see operation and maintenance costs coming in much higher than expected. John McLane, President of GCube Insurance Services, notes that OEM warranties cover O&M costs for the wind project’s first two or more years. So owners and operators don’t know true O&M costs until after the warranty expires. McLane explains that this impacts the price of insurance, making it a kind of “maintenance checking account.” This also makes it much harder to see a return from wind energy projects, which keeps the wind industry from maturing. GCube has taken the lead on addressing this issue by forming an advisory council to push OEMs on improving warranty structure and improving equipment reliability. McLane also stresses the importance of stronger maintenance through condition monitoring.
Jim Rosborough, Commercial Director for Dow Electrical & Telecommunications in North America, agrees that operations and maintenance costs are coming in much too high and that equipment reliability must also see improvement. He stresses that “going cheap upfront” isn’t the best way to create a successful wind farm and achieve lowest total cost-of-ownership. Rosborough also sees a need for more utility to develop wind-specific codes. I’ve seen the lack of specifications as an issue in other areas of the industry as well, such as in wind service lifts. Without proper codes, wind farms are at an increased risk for under performance and, worse, worker safety is put in jeopardy.
Just to mention some of the other companies I had a chance to chat with and what they’re featuring:
-Most wind blade manufacturing is done over seas, but Global Blade Technology is planning to manufacture in the U.S.
-Marie Hartis introduced me to Parker Hannifin’s thermal management system. The two-phase evaporative cooling unit uses a fluid that vaporizes and cools electrical equipment. Because the fluid changes state and recycles itself it never has to be replaced, which makes the system highly efficient.
-Rodel Dadivas, Product Application Specialist at Shell Lubricants, discussed the company’s S5T460 lubricant for wind turbine main bearings, which can be used in bearings to help with adjusting blade pitch and provides corrosion resistance.
– Henkel’s Director of Business Development, Jason Spencer, showed us Henkel’s Loctite brand of polyurethane bonding adhesives. As their slogan “Build It. Bond It. Fix It.” implies, Henkel’s adhesives are used in almost every part of the turbine from cable sealing to repairing tip damage.
Windpower Engineering & Development was also proud to host our first after-show event. The view from The Commerce Club’s 49th floor provided a fantastic look at the city below. The bartender pointed out the Coca-Cola headquarters, Dr. King’s church and even the Center for Disease Control, which could easily be mistaken for a city itself. From collard greens and chicken to cables and components, I enjoyed my time in Atlanta and returned with confidence in the wind industry. The PTC’s passage would sure make things easier, but even if it doesn’t come through I know the wind industry will. We’ve just come too far to turn back now.
–Kathie Zipp, Associate Editor of WPE&D